Ski areas extra vigilant

Gondola operators are on heightened alert following last week's apparent sabotage of the Sea to Sky Gondola.

Investigators said the gondola's main cable was cut in the early hours of Aug. 10, causing 31 cars to crash toward the ground. No one was injured.

"Out of due diligence, numerous ski areas are doing extra checks with their security, just focused more on the lifts," said Christopher Nicolson, president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association. "As far as we know, the motivation is not yet known."

Canada has a robust regulatory system for gondolas, added Nicolson. According to Technical Safety B.C. – the provincial authority that oversees the safety of passenger ropeways such as gondolas and chairlifts – the Sea to Sky Gondola passed two inspections in 2019.

The agency is currently investigating the incident in co-ordination with the RCMP.

"A pre-operational inspection is always conducted before the lines open each morning," wrote spokesperson Jennifer Smith. "Guest safety is a top priority for Whistler Blackcomb and it will continue to be vigilant in upholding its standards and practices."

Representing Grouse Mountain, communications manager Julia Grant emphasized that the safety of visitors and employees is top priority.

"We have significant safety procedures in place including stringent daily equipment checks as well as our regular 24-hour on-site monitoring at the base and the chalet," she wrote.

With a robust criminal investigation underway, the search for answers into the suspected intentional downing of Squamish's iconic gondola is underway. While limited in what he can discuss given the ongoing investigation, Sea to Sky Gondola General Manager Kirby Brown suggested that whoever carried out the brazen act would have needed a fairly specialized skillset.

After scaling one of the gondola's massive towers, the suspect (or suspects) would have then been faced with cutting through a 52-millimetre-thick cable engineered to handle "incredible weight, under extreme tension," for years, said Brown.

He believes the line was cut straight through and then fell immediately with the individual still on the scene.

While the incident took place when the gondola was closed, Brown suggested that someone still could have been hurt, whether it was someone who was hiking underneath the line or a worker in one of the terminals.

Launched in 2011, the $22-million Sea to Sky Gondola project faced significant opposition from environmental groups before opening in 2014, with many voicing concern about the creation of a major commercial enterprise in the heart of Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.

Yet since opening, the gondola has proven tremendously popular among tourists and locals alike. It is also one of the largest employers in the community.

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